Mark Van Doren | |
How far is it to peace, the piper sighed,
The solitary, sweating as he paused.
Asphalt the noon; the ravens, terrified,
Fled carrion thunder that percussion caused.
The envelope of earth was powder loud;
The taut wings shivered, driven at the sun.
The piper put his pipe away and bowed.
Not here, he said.
I hunt the love-cool one,
The dancer with the clipped hair.
Where is she?
We shook our heads, parting for him to pass.
Our lady was of no such trim degree,
And none of us had seen her face, alas.
She was the very ridges that we must scale,
Securing the rough top.
And how she smiled
Was how our strength would issue.
Not to fail
Was having her, gigantic, undefiled,
For homely goddess, big as the world that burned,
Grandmother and taskmistress, frild and town.
We let the stranger go; but when we turned
Our lady lived, fierce in each other's frown.
Ride away, ride away,
Johnny shall ride,
And he shall have pussy-cat
Tied to one side;
And he shall have little dog
Tied to the other,
And Johnny shall ride
To see his grandmother.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan | |
I imagine them walking down rocky paths
toward me, strong, Italian women returning
at dusk from fields where they worked all day
on farms built like steps up the sides
of steep mountains, graceful women carrying water
in terra cotta jugs on their heads.
What I know of these women, whom I never met,
I know from my mother, a few pictures
of my grandmother, standing at the doorway
of the fieldstone house in Santo Mauro,
the stories my mother told of them,
but I know them most of all from watching
my mother, her strong arms lifting sheets
out of the cold water in the wringer washer,
or from the way she stepped back,
wiping her hands on her homemade floursack apron,
and admired her jars of canned peaches
that glowed like amber in the dim cellar light.
I see those women in my mother
as she worked, grinning and happy,
in her garden that spilled its bounty into her arms.
She gave away baskets of peppers,
lettuce, eggplant, gave away bowls of pasts,
meatballs, zeppoli, loaves of homemade bread.
"It was a miracle," she said.
"The more I gave away, the more I had to give.
Now I see her in my daughter,
the same unending energy,
that quick mind,
that hand, open and extended to the world.
When I watch my daughter clean the kitchen counter,
watch her turn, laughing,
I remember my mother as she lay dying,
how she said of my daughter, "that Jennifer,
she's all the treasure you'll ever need.
I turn now, as my daughter turns,
and see my mother walking toward us
down crooked mountain paths,
behind her, all those women
dressed in black
Copyright 1998 © Maria Mazziotti Gillan.
All rights reserved.
More great poems below...
Ellis Parker Butler | |
Just as the sun was setting
Back of the Western hills
Grandfather stood by the window
Eating the last of his pills.
And Grandmother, by the cupboard,
Knitting, heard him say:
“I ought to have went to the village
To fetch some more pills today.
Then Grandmother snuffled a teardrop
“It is jest like I suz
T’ th’ parson—Grandfather’s liver
Ain’t what it used to was:
“It’s gittin’ torpid and dormant,
It don’t function like of old,
And even them pills he swallers
Don’t seem no more t’ catch hold;
“They used to grab it and shake it
And joggle it up and down
And turn dear Grandfather yaller
Except when they turned him brown;
“I remember when we was married
His liver was lively and gay,
A kickin’ an’ rippin’ an’ givin’
Dear Ezry new pains ev’ry day;
“It used to turn clear over backwards
An’ palpitate wuss’n a pump
An’ give him the janders and yallers
An’ bounce around thumpty-thump;
“But now it is torpid and dormant
And painless and quiet and cold;
Ah, me! all’s so peaceful an’ quiet
Since Grandfather’s liver ’s grown old!
Then Grandmother wiped a new teardrop
And sighed: “It is just like I suz
T’ th’ parson: Grandfather’s liver
Ain’t what it used to was.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox | |
I have written this day down in my heart
As the sweetest day in the season;
From all of the others I've set it apart---
But I will not tell you the reason,
That is my secret---I must not tell;
But the skies are soft and tender,
And never before, I know full well,
Was the earth so full of splendour.
I sing at my labour the whole day long,
And my heart is as light as a feather;
And there is a reason for my glad song
Besides the beautiful weather.
But I will not tell it to you; and though
That thrush in the maple heard it,
And would shout it aloud if he could, I know
He hasn't the power to word it.
Up, where I was sewing, this morn came one
Who told me the sweetest stories,
He said I had stolen my hair from the sun,
And my eyes from the morning glories.
Grandmother says that I must not believe
A word men say, for they flatter;
But I'm sure he would never try to deceive,
For he told me---but there---no matter!
Last night I was sad, and the world to me
Seemed a lonely and dreary dwelling,
But some one then had not asked me to be---
There now! I am almost telling.
Not another word shall my two lips say,
I will shut them fast together,
And never a mortal shall know to-day
Why my heart is as light as a feather.
Marge Piercy | |
A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
but I've never seen wheat in a pile.
Apples, potatoes, cabbages, carrots
make lumpy stacks, but you are sleek
as a seal hauled out in the winter sun.
I can see you as a great goose egg
or a single juicy and fully ripe peach.
You swell like a natural grassy hill.
You are symmetrical as a Hopewell mound,
with the eye of the navel wide open,
the eye of my apple, the pear's port
You're not supposed to exist
at all this decade.
You're to be flat
as a kitchen table, so children with
roller skates can speed over you
like those sidewalks of my childhood
that each gave a different roar under
You're required to show
muscle striations like the ocean
sand at ebb tide, but brick hard.
Clothing is not designed for women
of whose warm and flagrant bodies
you are a swelling part.
Yet I confess
I meditate with my hands folded on you,
a maternal cushion radiating comfort.
Even when I have been at my thinnest,
you have never abandoned me but curled
round as a sleeping cat under my skirt.
When I spread out, so do you.
to eat, drink and bang on another belly.
In anxiety I clutch you with nervous fingers
as if you were a purse full of calm.
In my grandmother standing in the fierce sun
I see your cauldron that held eleven children
shaped under the tent of her summer dress.
I see you in my mother at thirty
in her flapper gear, skinny legs
and then you knocking on the tight dress.
We hand you down like a prize feather quilt.
You are our female shame and sunburst strength.
Alice Walker | |
When Golda Meir
Was in Africa
She shook out her hair
And combed it
Everywhere she went.
According to her autobiography
Africans loved this.
In Russia, Minneapolis, London, Washington, D.
Germany, Palestine, Tel Aviv and
She never combed at all.
There was no point.
Places people said, "She looks like
Any other aging grandmother.
Like a troll.
Let's sell her cookery
"Kreplach your cookery," said Golda.
Only in Africa could she finally
Settle down and comb her hair.
The children crept up and stroked it,
And she felt beautiful.
Such wonderful people, Africans
Childish, arrogant, self-indulgent, pompous,
Cowardly and treacherous-a great disappointment
To Israel, of course, and really rather
Ridiculous in international affairs
But, withal, opined Golda, a people of charm
And good taste.
Katherine Mansfield | |
In the middle of our porridge plates
There was a blue butterfly painted
And each morning we tried who should reach the
Then the Grandmother said: "Do not eat the poor
That made us laugh.
Always she said it and always it started us laughing.
It seemed such a sweet little joke.
I was certain that one fine morning
The butterfly would fly out of our plates,
Laughing the teeniest laugh in the world,
And perch on the Grandmother's lap.
William Strode | |
Though Death to good men be the greatest boone,
I dare not think this Lady dyde so soone.
She should have livde for others: Poor mens want
Should make her stande, though she herselfe should faynt.
What though her vertuous deeds did make her seeme
Of equall age with old Methusalem?
Shee should have livde the more, and ere she fell
Have stretcht her little Span unto an Ell.
May wee not thinke her in a sleep or sowne,
Or that shee only tries her bedde of grounde?
Besides the life of Fame, is shee all deade?
As deade as Vertue, which together fledde:
As dead as men without it: and as cold
As Charity, that long ago grewe old.
Those eyes of pearle are under marble sett,
And now the Grave is made the Cabinett.
Tenne or an hundred doe not loose by this,
But all mankinde doth an Example misse.
A little earth cast upp betweene her sight
And us eclypseth all the world with night.
What ere Disease, to flatter greedy Death,
Hath stopt the organ of such harmlesse breath,
May it bee knowne by a more hatefull name
Then now the Plague: and for to quell the same
May all Physitians have an honest will:
May Pothecaries learne the Doctors skill:
May wandring Mountebanks, and which is worse
May an old womans medicine have the force
To vanquish it, and make it often flie,
Till Destiny on's servant learne to die.
May death itselfe, and all its Armory
Bee overmatcht with one poore Recipe.
What need I curse it? for, ere Death will kill
Another such, so farre estrang'd from ill,
So fayre, so kinde, so wisely temperate,
Time will cutt off the very life of Fate.
To make a perfect Lady was espyde
No want in her of anything but Pride:
And as for wantonnesse, her modesty
Was still as coole as now her ashes bee.
Seldome hath any Daughter lesse than her
Favourde the stampe of Eve her grandmother.
Her soule was like her body; both so cleare
As that a brighter eye than mans must peere
To finde a Blott; nor can wee yet suspect
But only by her Death the least defect:
And were not that the wages due to Sinne
Wee might beleeve that spotlesse she had bin.
Anne Sexton | |
In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign --
namely MERCY STREET.
I try the Back Bay.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant's teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was.
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
with the stranger's seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.
I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
Pull the shades down --
I don't care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?
I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
and its hauled up
Edgar Lee Masters | |
Grandmother! You who sang to green valleys,
And passed to a sweet repose at ninety-six,
Here is your little Rita at last
Grown old, grown forty-nine;
Here stretched on your grave under the winter stars,
With the rustle of oak leaves over my head;
Piecing together strength for the act,
Last thoughts, memories, asking how I am here!
After wandering afar, over the world,
Life in cities, marriages, motehrhood--
(They all married, and I am homeless, alone.
Grandmother! I have not lacked in strength,
Nor will, nor courage.
No! I have honored you
With a life that used these gifts of your blood.
But I was caught in trap after trap in the years.
At last the cruelist trap of all.
Then I fought the bars, pried open the door,
Crawled through -- but it suddenly sprang shut,
And tore me to death as I used your courage
To free myself!
Grandmother! Fold me to your breast again.
Make me earth with you for the blossoms of spring--
Edgar Lee Masters | |
How many times, during the twenty years
I was your leader, friends of Spoon River,
Did you neglect the convention and caucus,
And leave the burden on my hands
Of guarding and saving the people's cause? --
Sometimes because you were ill;
Or your grandmother was ill;
Or you drank too much and fell asleep;
Or else you said: "He is our leader,
All will be well; he fights for us;
We have nothing to do but follow.
But oh, how you cursed me when I fell,
And cursed me, saying I had betrayed you,
In leaving the caucus room for a moment,
When the people's enemies, there assembled,
Waited and watched for a chance to destroy
The Sacred Rights of the People.
You common rabble! I left the caucus
To go to the urinal.
Judith Wright | |
If the year is meditating a suitable gift,
I should like it to be the attitude
of my great- great- grandmother,
legendary devotee of the arts,
who having eight children
and little opportunity for painting pictures,
sat one day on a high rock
beside a river in Switzerland
and from a difficult distance viewed
her second son, balanced on a small ice flow,drift down the current toward a waterfall
that struck rock bottom eighty feet below,
while her second daughter, impeded,
no doubt, by the petticoats of the day,
stretched out a last-hope alpenstock
(which luckily later caught him on his way).
Nothing, it was evident, could be done;
And with the artist's isolating eye
My great-great-grandmother hastily sketched the scene.
The sketch survives to prove the story by.
Year, if you have no Mother's day present planned,
Reach back and bring me the firmness of her hand.
Robert William Service | |
Your children grow from you apart,
Afar and still afar;
And yet it should rejoice your heart
To see how glad they are;
In school and sport, in work and play,
And last, in wedded bliss
How others claim with joy to-day
The lips you used to kiss.
Your children distant will become,
And wide the gulf will grow;
The lips of loving will be dumb,
The trust you used to know
Will in another's heart repose,
Another's voice will cheer .
And you will fondle baby clothes
And brush away a tear.
But though you are estranged almost,
And often lost to view,
How you will see a little ghost
Who ran to cling to you!
Yet maybe children's children will
Caress you with a smile .
Grandmother love will bless you still,--
Well, just a little while.
Robert William Service | |
Oh Maggie, do you mind the day
We went to school together,
And as we stoppit by the way
I rolled you in the heather?
My! but you were the bonny lass
And we were awfu' late for class.
Your locks are now as white as snow,
And you are ripe and wrinkled,
A grandmother ten times or so,
Yet how your blue eyes twinkled
At me above your spectacles,
Recalling naughty neck-tickles!
It must be fifty years today
I left you for the Yukon;
You haven't changed - your just as gay
And just as sweet to look on.
But can you see in this old fool
The lad who made you late for school?
Oh Maggie, ask me in to tea
And we can talk things over,
And contemplate the nuptial state,
For I am still your lover:
And though the bell be slow to chime
We'll no be grudgin' o' the time